When Mike Freeman addresses his family friends at the steps of the National Baseball Hall of Fame some 20 years from now, he’ll point to July 17, 2019 as the turning point for his career that landed him in Cooperstown.
“Oh, but what about that time you had two hits against the Red Sox? Or the time you ended world hunger?” reporters will ask. He will quiet them, as he’s oft required to do with his uproarious fans. But this time will be different. For now, he can smile knowing he helped his favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, beat the Detroit Tigers and get within four games of the AL Central lead.
No matter what timeline we split off to after tonight — whether it’s a Hall of Fame trajectory for the 31-year-old, or a few more seasons of nomading his way across another dozen Major League Baseball franchises followed by a quiet retirement — tonight was a fun night for a player that doesn’t often get a lot of recognition. There’s a reason Freeman is known as “Generic Baseball Man” on Indians Twitter. He doesn’t look the part of a hero, and he doesn’t usually play like one.
But tonight, combined with the last couple nights, he was sure fun to watch.
Freeman went 2-for-3 with a walk in relief of Francisco Lindor, who took half a night off as the Tribe’s DH. Freeman took his playing time and ran with it, with a pair of singles, including a dramatic drag bunt in the seventh inning that plated José Ramírez from third. That looks inconsequential in a 7-2 blowout, but at the time he gave the Indians a 3-1 lead when the offense wasn’t doing much and the recently shaky bullpen was already going to work.
It was a big deal, and it was awesome.
There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball; 29 don't have @MikeBFree5 on their team.— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 18, 2019
We do.#RallyTogether pic.twitter.com/4bRwcb0vRR
The rest of the offense became fully operational in the eighth inning, when they batted around the Tigers bullpen and scored four more runs en route to the blowout. It started with a Francisco Lindor home run — essentially a response dinger to Nicholas Castellanos’s in the previous inning — and continued with Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, José Ramírez, and Greg Allen all getting on base one after the other.
Even before the hits started to turn into a flood of runs, though, it was clear the offense was making good contact. Prior to the seventh inning, nine of the top 10 hardest hit balls of the night came off Tigers starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull. Most of them were singles with poor sequencing or just plain outs, however. So it didn’t amount to much. Even Tyler Naquin’s 105.9 mph scorcher (hit off yet another low breaking ball that pitchers can’t seem to stop giving him) was merely a footnote in the sea of hard hits off Indians bats.
And what did Mike Clevinger do on the mound, you ask? Oh, just struck out 12 batters (including six of his first seven outs of the game) and allowed a single run off six hits in six innings of work. His fastball also touched 97.8 mph and was only put into play once the entire game — compared to the 12 called strikes and seven swinging strikes it generated.
Clevinger was absolutely disgusting tonight, is what I’m getting at. There’s an aspect of pitching against a bad team, sure, but the way Clevinger was tunneling and locating everything the way he wanted, I don’t imagine he would have had much trouble turning in this kind of start against any other team in the majors.
Mike Clevinger, 98mph Fastball (swinging strike) and 82mph Slider (Sword/K), Overlay. pic.twitter.com/wI0zvA4VOR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 17, 2019
With the win tonight and the Twins’ loss earlier in the day, the AL Central is now within four games, and the Indians couldn’t possibly be hotter over the last month and a half. Buckle up.